In “Prime Minister, where are my 40 acres and a mule?” Lee Jasper writes to David Cameron, after previously unseen historical records reveal how the Government compensated slave owners with no regard for slaves. [Information about the new project—The Structure and Significance of British Caribbean Slave-Ownership, 1763-1833—is included in a separate post; also see Britain’s Colonial Shame: Slave-owners Given Huge Payouts after Abolition.] Here are just a few excerpts with a link to the full text below:
Yesterday saw reports of previously unseen historical records that audit British involvement in transatlantic slavery detailing specific amounts paid in compensation to wealthy slave owners, at the time of the abolition of slavery. [. . .] What emerges is that while enslaved Africans were set free after abolition, in the vast majority of cases, they walked off the plantation into a life of tied servitude, abject poverty and racism, while British slave-owning families were all handsomely compensated by the British Government of the day. The research identifies individuals and names some of Britain’s wealthiest, most powerful families and political dynasties that directly benefited from the huge amounts paid at the time. It knocks on the head a popular myth that only the very wealthy benefitted from slavery as the research shows that lots of “very ordinary men and women” were compensated and illustrates the true extent of British involvement in slavery.
Slavery was abolished by Britain in 1838 after increasing rebellions of on the plantations meant it could no longer afford to maintain its armies throughout the British Caribbean used to quell rebellion and keep Africans on the plantation.
Once the brilliant African, Toussaint Loverture, defeated the British and French in their attempts to retake Haiti in the late 1700s, African rebellion spread like wildfire to plantations throughout the world. Over the next 40 years rebellions increased, particularly in Jamaica, and the price of sugar collapsed. In order to understand the importance of sugar to world economy back then, one should view the sweetener as being the equivalent of oil in today’s economy.
Combined with an unprecedented public abolition campaign supported by the British public, most of whom had never met an African, and driven by Britain’s most foremost anti-slavery advocate Thomas Clarkson led by the African and freeman, Olaudah Equiano, the radical campaigner William Fox, alongside religious groups such as the Quakers and radical Anglicans, the institution of slavery was finally brought to its knees in 1838. It is a fact of history that Britain was made “Great” through the ruthless and brutal exploitation of African and Asian people during the period of its involvement in the singularly brutal economic enterprises of slavery and Empire. [Here, the author speaks about his family history and the great thinkers who addressed the lasting implications of slavery. . .]
[. . .] London’s importance as a world city today, with its financial service sector, owes its success largely to profits made from the slave trade. Slavery was a respectable occupation in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, and many City of London merchants grew wealthy by providing credit and insurance for slave voyages. [. . .] The National Gallery was founded on an art collection of pictures given to it by John Julius Angerston, which he built up with money from the slave trade. This included his activities as one of the underwriters of Lloyds of London that insured slave voyages. The Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery were also founded on profits from sugar cane grown in the Caribbean and cut by African slaves.
REPARATIONS: Should there be reparations paid for Britain’s involvement on transatlantic slavery? Yes, hell yes, reparations should be paid by the Government, those institutions and families who directly benefitted form the greatest crime in human history, should now do the decent thing and follow the example of Quaker companies such as Cadburys or Joseph Rowntrees, who have both had long standing commitment through their charitable trust to fund work on race equality issues. [. . .] I don’t want a cheque but I do want formal recognition. I do want to see companies like Lloyds of London and Unilever paying up.
[. . .] The British Government could cancel all outstanding the historic debts from the nations it once had under colonial rule. The Queen herself could apologies under instruction from the Government so to do.
Otherwise the festering malignant resentment of a people, some of whom were robbed of their land, some take enslaved and then made destitute, systematically stripped of their language and culture, families sold like cattle, whose countries of origin were raped of resources, who were forced to work for hundreds of years under the brutal lash of the slave masters whip, whose descendants endured and continue to endure, modern day Jim Crow racism will forever view British society and its blind refusal to acknowledge the greatest crime in human history as a gross affront to our common citizenship and humanity. [. . .]